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  • Don't Be Weekend-Only Parents: 4 Ways to Put Your Child First When You're Separated

    Your child will be better off if you and your ex are co-parenting on the same page.
    by Rachel Perez .
Don't Be Weekend-Only Parents: 4 Ways to Put Your Child First When You're Separated
  • No one plans to have a broken family, but when it happens couples try their best to show a united front when it comes to raising their kids. Co-parenting, however, does not come easy because emotions often run high. But, as marital counselors and parenting coaches often say, you need to set your focus on the kids.

    "Your co-parenting agreements, whatever they are, are for your kids. They’re for you to be the best parents you can be across two households," Karen Bonnell, a co-parenting mediator, coach, mentor and co-author of The Co-Parenting Handbook told Fatherly.

    "Look at [a co-parenting agreement] through the lens of ‘What is the impact on our children?’ so that we’re giving them the childhood that they deserve," Bonnell explained.

    The most comfortable setup would be weekday and weekend parenting, which is the most common setup you hear from co-parents. But it's not necessarily ideal, according to research. You need to consider the factors below for your child's socio-emotional upbringing. 

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    Time the child spends in each home should be equal.

    Your child should spend an equal amount of residential time in both homes to build an emotional and loving connection, as opposed to just bringing him to the mall every weekend. It should not disrupt your child's routine. If that's not entirely possible, having the child over for two nights or two full days in the weekend is better than just one night or one day. Bonnell explains that to a child, it would still feel like some field trip rather than just a token trip he's required to do. Even if your kid is old enough to decide what kind of arrangement they prefer, encourage him to spend an equal amount of time in each home.


    Both parents should be involved in all aspects of the child's life.

    There are school, extracurricular activities, and friends. Both parents should know what's going on in school and with their child's friendships, and in every aspect of their child's life. It is why clear and open communication is vital in co-parenting.

    If one parent can't accommodate his or her child on weekdays, he or she should still be in the know of what's happening in the child's life. Daily updates are great, though it's not always comfortable for ex-couples. Emails work well, too, if phone calls seem awkward. If not, then just make sure he or she knows what happened during the week by the time it's his or her time to care for the child.

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    Holidays should be shared equally.

    Bonnell revealed that kids often do better when they can share holidays with both parents. Minimize big changes in their life until they can adjust gradually to the idea of spending them separately in the future. It's also important to give your child the opportunity to spend it with each parent, as opposed to Christmas always at Mom's and summer vacations always at Dad's.

    Again, try not to shuttle between two homes, maybe even four if you count visits to grandparents' homes for the holidays. It's hard to build relationships when the experience feels it's always an exhausting task. Decide when the child can spend Christmas with Mom this year and then with dad the next year, same for New Years, birthdays, and other holidays or vacations. Avoid springing sudden changes in a schedule that everyone has agreed upon because it creates additional tension.

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    Any holiday or birthday traditions should be fulfilled, though, by both parents. Maintaining a sense of stability is still essential for children with separated parents. But there's no rule against making new traditions ones, too!

    Factor in time with parents' new partners.

    The goal is to have a seamless peaceful co-parenting arrangement with your child, and eventually, this may include new partners, if and when it becomes serious. As hard as it is to accept for some, any new partners should also have their time with the child to be able to create a relationship together.

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    All of the above would be tricky to pull off when you and your ex are not in good terms. Even if you've put your agreement down on paper, it's often not a final version. You need to revisit and add or eliminate rules as your child grows up. Any changes, though, should be made in unison.

    Should you need to amend your co-parenting agreement or rules, make sure to check if you are doing it for the right reasons. Bonnell advises to answer these questions:

    • Are we putting our child's needs and interests ahead of any negative feelings toward each other? Is this truly about our child?
    • Will it help maintain the integrity of a strong and accessible parental relationship with both of us for our child?
    • Are we conveying an atmosphere of respect and positive regard for each other?

    Respect is one crucial and non-negotiable aspect of co-parenting. It's the only way co-parenting can work effectively. Honesty, transparency, and cooperation are also vital to making it all work.


    It's not easy, but it can be achieved. Just focus on your goal: a stable two-home setup for your child.

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